Estimated reading time — 9 minutes
It was late at night. I was standing on the pier, leaning against a light post, sucking on my fifth cigarette. The fog had rolled in off the bay and with each exhale, my smoke mingled with the mist until you couldn’t tell one from the other. I could hear the buoys in out in the bay – Ding! Ding! Ding! – with every gently passing wave, but the sound was muffled, eerie, through the thickness of the surrounding fog.
The weak refracted circle of yellowish light in which I stood did little to illuminate me, so, as I stood there, I felt furtive. Sneaky. I kept looking around me, waiting for someone to ask me what I was doing here at this time of night. Waiting for a police officer to tell me to move on, no loitering! But no one came. Not even Ed.
About an hour ago I’d gotten a frantic call from my brother telling me to meet him here. I didn’t question him. I just threw on some shoes, grabbed my overcoat, and left the house. He sounded afraid; urgent. Ed had never been either afraid, nor very urgent – about anything. He went through life confident and steady. True, things got done on Ed Time, but they got done. He’d never once let me down. Therefore, when he called, I came running.
“Will!” He was breathless on the phone. “Something…something’s happened. I need you to pick me up on the pier…now.”
That was it. He hung up. I didn’t have to ask him which pier; I knew which one. We’d spent half our childhood there. Naked toddlers learning to jump into the cold water and laughing for all we were worth when dad or mom caught us. Young boys beginning to get confident in our swimming abilities and seeing who could swim out the farthest without getting too tired or scared. I always turned back first. As teenagers, we brought girls there. This was our place. The place where we both made, and felt, magic as children. We’d made a pact once that if we ever got into trouble, this pier was our meeting point. No questions asked.
So, Ed had called the pact into action and I came.
After I’d been standing there, under that light, for about an hour and a half, I finally heard a sound. Not coming from the bay, but from off to my right and slightly behind me. A shuffling and grunting. I turned in the direction of the sound only to see Ed, beaten and bloody, barely able to stand. He flung himself toward me with his last bit of strength. I caught him awkwardly and guided him to the wooden pier floor.
“Will! I’m sorry. I wasn’t fast enough. Go! Go now!” He was urgent, but his voice was so weak. I had to put my ear to his mouth to hear him. I tried to ask him what happened. Tried to get any kind of explanation from him. But it was no use. He wouldn’t – couldn’t – respond. And then I watched. I sat there, surrounded by the chilly mist of fog, in the middle of the night, and watched as the light from his eyes faded away. I watched as my big brother – just one year older than I – died, right there in my arms, on the magical pier of our childhood. I was too stunned to speak. Too horrified to act! Too heartbroken. I just sat on that pier, cradling my brother’s head in my lap, and cried.
I don’t know how long I remained like that – Ed’s head in my lap, my tears wetting his face – but at some point, I became aware of another sound. This one was unlike anything I’d ever heard before. Heavy, wet breathing. A chattering, like teeth in the winter when you’re cold and wishing for hot chocolate and a warm fire. A thump. A dragging sound. Repeated over and over. And the wet breathing.
I didn’t like this. This was…bad. I was torn between wanting to protect my beloved brother’s body, and give in to my flight response. I’d never been afraid before where Ed hadn’t been around to assure me all would be well. But, clearly, all was not well. Ed was dead. And those sounds! Whatever it was could not be good. Maybe this was what Ed was trying to warn me about?
Decided, I whispered to Ed, “I’m sorry bro. I love you. I’ll come back for you!” And then I fled down the pier to the boardwalk which paralleled the bay and abutted the homes up a steep hill.
At the end of the boardwalk, there were old, weathered steps leading up the hill to the street. By the time I got up those steps I was breathless, wheezing like an asthmatic, listening to my heart as it beat heavily in my throat. I put my hands on my knees and bent over to catch my breath and regulate my heart rate.
But my reprieve was short-lived. Thumping. Heavy thumping and dragging, moving steadily upward behind me. And that wet breathing again! Holy crap! Did that thing – whatever it was – follow me? I didn’t wait to find out. I simply began running again. My car was at the end of the street in the small lot reserved for boardwalk and pier visitors. If I could make it to my car, I could outstrip this thing. I was beginning to have visions of a Godzilla-like creature, teeth dripping, rumbling along behind me.
You know how sometimes in dreams you run, but you don’t get anywhere? That’s how I was feeling. I had put every ounce of effort, every ounce of strength, into pumping my legs harder and harder to make it to my car. And still, I didn’t feel like I was going fast enough. Every time I slowed, just for a second, I heard the heavy breathing, the chattering, the thumping.
Finally, however, I made it to my car. After fumbling with the keys – dammit! – I was finally able to wrench the door open. I flung myself inside and slammed the door behind me. If I hadn’t felt so terrified, it would have been a laughable thing trying to get my key in the ignition. As it was, I fumbled that, too. Twice! Just as I managed to hit home, just as the key slid into the ignition, my entire car shook as a heavy weight suddenly landed on the roof!
I freaked. I was always a little bit nervous, but I was seriously freaked out. I didn’t understand what was happening. What this thing was. Ed said something had happened! What? What happened? And now, this thing was on the roof of my car.
I threw the car into reverse and floored it, backing out of the small parking lot, spraying particles of sand out behind me. On the road, I put pedal to the metal and hit sixty-five before I could take a breath. I didn’t care if it was a twenty-five zone! I yanked the wheel right, left, right again, trying to shake the creature off the roof, but it hung on. Somehow, it hung on!
I kept going. Turn after turn, no destination in mind, just trying to do everything I could think of to dislodge the thing. Suddenly, a shrieking! A tearing! Metal on metal. Ripping, snarling! I looked up and realized the thing had dug its claws (claws!) into the roof and torn it clear away leaving a jagged, gaping hole in the top of my car!
But that’s not what made me drive clear off the road and wind up in a ditch on the golf course. What made me lose control was…that thing had Ed’s face! Ed’s body, only…larger, and with greenish gray skin. It had vicious teeth, chattering with crazed excitement, mouth dripping with strings of saliva and a horrible, hungry look in its eyes. Ed. My brother.
In shock, I ran the car right off the road, went down a short embankment, hit a tree and the creature went flying forward to land, on its back, about ten feet away. My airbag deployed, leaving me bruised and bleeding, but otherwise alive. I scrambled, aching, out of the car and began to run.
The Ed-Thing, completely unaffected by the crash, leapt up and began to follow behind me at a steady, plodding, unconcerned pace. As I shot continued glances back over my shoulder I saw long, unnatural arms, hands dragging along the ground, claws – awful six-inch spikes! – leaving grooves in the turf behind it. Large feet, also horribly clawed. Shoulders so broad, hunched over, hulking. But even with all this girth, and even with the methodical, plodding pace, the creature with Ed’s face was gaining on me.
I was going to lose.
My heart was beating a frantic staccato. I had broken out in a sweat which was dripping down the back of my shirt. My legs were burning with exertion. I was going as fast as I could.
The golf course led absolutely nowhere, except back up to the street or – suddenly knowing my plan – to the bay on the far side. There was a cliff and then, after a seventy-foot drop, the waters of the bay and a rocky outcropping below. If I was lucky, maybe I could outsmart this thing.
The small plan, once hatched, gave me a clarity of mind I’d not had since I saw Ed fling himself at me, bleeding and dying, through the fog. I doubled my effort and, as I expected, the Ed-Thing behind me doubled his.
Dammit! I don’t remember this golf course being so big! When Ed and I played here as kids it seemed so much smaller. But then, Dad was with us and we had the cart then. Now I was on my own, running for all I was worth, probably toward certain death.
THERE! Even in the dark I could see the cliff-line on the horizon. The green of the course went right up to the edge of the cliff and provided me with a clear demarcation between solid ground, and open sky. I hoped the Ed-Thing wouldn’t understand where I was leading him.
So tired. I was growing weaker with every step and that creature just didn’t stop! But I kept pushing. I risked another look over my shoulder and found the Ed-Thing nearly on top of me. He would only have to reach out those horrible arms and I would be his. His awful face was alive with wicked delight. This chase was definitely a game to him. I was the mouse to his cat. The prey to his predator.
I neared the edge of the cliff and pushed harder. Oh, my lungs were burning from exertion! I wanted him to think I wasn’t going to stop. He pushed harder, too. Finally, inches from the edge, I veered to the left and, with all the creature’s forward momentum, the Ed-Thing couldn’t stop. He kept going right over the edge of the cliff and I, both triumphant and exhausted, stopped to watch as the creature with my brother’s face plunged seventy feet to the rocks below.
I heard the crunch as he landed. A wet slap. A horrible shriek. Oh, the most awful sound I’ve ever heard! And as he died, broken on those rocks, he looked up the sheer wall of the cliff and I knew he was looking directly at me. I felt nauseous.
I’ll never forget it. Not as long as I live. I’m not sure if I truly outsmarted the creature, outmaneuvered him, or if I was just lucky.
I went back to the pier for my brother’s body and we buried him in the family plot on the island. I was only ever able to tell anyone about the phone call, and Ed showing up at the pier and dying in my arms. I could never bring myself to tell them the whole story.
Later, I found out what my brother had been working on, and how the whole thing blew up in his face; literally. But research has its dangers. Ed knew that. As a scientist, he was trained to consider all aspects of his research and experiments. Look at all safety concerns. Look at what could possibly go wrong. Check, double-check, triple-check. But, even as methodical as I knew Ed was in the lab, no one would have ever predicted such a horrible accident. Further, no one would ever have guessed at the outcome.
He’d been working with gene-splicing, cells and DNA. I’m not sure what his actual research direction was, but I knew he had samples of multiple types of human and animal cells. Whatever happened was an actual accident and the lab blew up. Literally. Not the whole building, mind you, but the lab he worked in was devastated. All the equipment, all the samples, everything…just gone in one huge flash.
Luckily, he’d been away from the lab at the time. The explosion happened overnight when there were very few people around. But, whatever happened fused all Ed’s samples together, including a small vial of his own blood, drawn by himself, from himself, for use in the experiment. Prior to the last time I’d spoken to him, he’d been excited. “On the verge of something big!” he’d told me. But with the security in place, and all the non-disclosure stuff, he hadn’t been able to tell me exactly what he’d been working on.
Those in charge at the facility became aware the creature existed shortly after the explosion. At first, they kept it locked up – it was new and unknown. They wanted to study it. But it’s skin was like armor and they were not able to get any kind of samples. As it grew – and it grew unnaturally fast – the other researchers and those in charge began to see the resemblance between it, and my brother. So, they called him in to see if he could explain things. He could not. Until that moment, he did not know the creature existed! He’d been kept out of the loop.
The instant the creature laid eyes on my brother, it got agitated. It began to thrash and scream, screech, use its teeth on the bars of its enclosure. It became so violent the researchers closed the entire research wing and evacuated everyone there. But it escaped anyway, and went directly after my brother.
You know the rest. A lot of it is still unknown. We probably will never know exactly what happened. I miss my brother. He was my best friend. My confidant. My confidence! He encouraged me when others did not. I felt like a piece of me was missing. And, in fact, it was. My brother lay cold in his grave on a small island in the bay which was still owned by my family. We buried all our dead there.
Even the creature was able to find his final rest on our family’s island. Bearing my brother’s face, I couldn’t stand to leave it broken and bleeding on the rocks, even if it did try to kill me. The recovery of its body took some doing, but we did manage it. My friend Jake, who owned the small boat we used, swore never to tell a soul what he’d seen when he helped me bury the creature on the island in secret, in the dark
You won’t tell either, will you?
Credit: Jennifer Shell